Given the Loretto Community’s ties to and presence in Pakistan, we felt a responsibility at Loretto at the United Nations to closely follow Pakistan’s voice throughout the 74th United Nations General Assembly that took place at the end of September. The General Assembly is the organ of the United Nations that is made up of member states and is responsible for policy and decision making. It’s annual gathering at the New York City headquarters of the United Nations is one of the biggest events of the year because it is a time for every member state to come together and discuss the progress that has been made in individual countries as well as plan for the year of work ahead. Even if we had not been specifically watching the moves that Pakistan made, the country’s presence throughout the General Assembly would have been impossible to ignore.
Prime Minister Imran Khan made a splash in the headlines for his address at the General Debate. The General Debate is the session that occurs during every General Assembly in which each head of state speaks about the state of their country and voices support (or lack thereof) for the work that is going on at the United Nations. Imran Khan opened his speech by stating that he wanted to talk about four problems.
First, Khan addressed climate change. He expressed that world leaders do not realize the urgency of climate change and thus, the United Nations must be the entity to take leadership on the issue of the climate emergency. Khan stated that he was born an environmentalist out of necessity and due to the impact that Pakistan faces when it comes to climate change. He stated that the people of Pakistan rely on water from surrounding rivers and the source of these rivers are the Himalayan glaciers. Because these glaciers are melting at such an alarming rate, Pakistan is concerned about the effect that this will have on their main water source.
Second, Khan called attention to the corruption of the ruling elite in the Western world stating “…every year billions of dollars leave poor countries and go to rich countries. Billions of dollars siphoned by corrupt politicians to tax havens, expensive properties bought in Western capitals. It is devastating to the developing world. Corruption is impoverishing the developing world”
Third, Mr. Khan dedicated several minutes to the pain that results from Islamophobia. He called out Western leaders for the role that they have played in propagating Islamophobia worldwide following 9/11. “Why did it start? Because Western leaders equated terrrorism with Islam!…there is no radical Islam, there is only Islam. Terrorism has nothing to do with any relgion…the basis of all religion is compassion and justice”
Fourth and finally, Khan addressed the Indian occupation of Kashmir. There are currently 8 million Kashmiri people who are under curfew and strict regulations at the hands of India’s military. Khan stated first and foremost that the goal of his administration is to regain peace. They have worked tirelessly to mend their relationship with Afghanistan and Iran and have attempted to resolve differences with India through trade. Unfortunately, India’s Prime Minister, Nerendra Modi, has rejected these proposals and though there have been multiple meetings set up between India and Pakistan, India has cancelled each of these. Khan explicitly called out RSS, the political party to which Modi belongs. RSS is known to have taken inspiration from Adolf Hitler and is grounded in racial purity and superiority. Mr. Khan was incredibly emotional throughout the course of this topic of discussion and closed his speech by stating vehemently that Pakistan will continue to fight for justice and self determination for Kashmir.
Loretto at the United Nations also had the honor of attending a panel discussion sponsored by Pakistan and Malaysia entitled “Environmental Stewardship in Addressing Poverty to Achieve Sustainable Development for All.” The panel included comments by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan Dr. Sania Nishtar as well as the Prime Minister himself. Both representatives emphasized the importance that Pakistan places on addressing climate change. Though Pakistan contributes to a very small percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions, Khan’s administration has made it a priority to restore their forest cover that has been diminished by the timber mafia. Pakistan had set a goal originally to plant 1 billion trees but has already exceeded this goal. They have since readjusted their goal to plant 10 billion new trees!
From addressing climate change to opposing Islamophobia, Loretto at the United Nations continues to affirm and uplift the work that Pakistan participates in at the General Assembly and beyond.